"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Local Ask an Atheist Event

Well, today we had an Ask an Atheist event, this time with 100% less stabbing action. It was inspired by the yearly national day organised by the Secular Student Alliance. It was mildly boring. One girl walked by, read our sign, laughed, and yelled "I love Tech!" There was a stereotypical Fraternity-type guy who walked by, one of my female friends tried to say hi to him, and he just laughed at her. We had a Jewish girl come up and tell us that despite being a Jew, she liked atheists and that her friend (who wasn't present) was an atheist. She asked for literature and for a sticker. We even had a pre-freshman approach us and take a fair bit of literature, much to the chagrin of his mother (who stayed back quite a distance.)

Really, there was only one person who came up and asked us anything. A middle aged Indian man came up and asked us for our definition of religion. I started to explain that it was a complicated issue which sociologists and anthropologists were working on, and that there was no simple definition that they had yet arrived at. I said that there were certain things which functioned like religions, but that there was a diversity of ontological commitments amongst different cultures.

He looked at me, smiled, and, in his rich Indian accent, said, "no, no, there's a very simple definition of what a religion is. It's one sentence."

I asked him what he thought religion was, and after some back and forth, he finally gave in and told me his definition. "Religion is the basis of human behaviour", he said, matter of factly. "We all have a religion that tells you how to behave."

I tried to explain that the situation was far more complicated than that, and that there existed certain groups of indigenous people whose moral/ethical obligations did not arise from their religious commitments. Had he actually listened to what I had to say, I would have gone into a more involved explication of the fact that some societies don't even have a word for religion and that the secular/non-secular distinction is a rather recent invention in the history of the world. Regardless, he didn't really want to hear me and he left.

Other than that, it was completely non-confrontational. At some point, one of the more active members provided a lesson in rhetoric to one of our undergraduates by pretending to be an offended evangelical Christian. All in all, it was a good event, but I would have liked to have seen more people approach us -- particularly people who had interesting counter positions that they would like to voice.

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